By Michael Chance
Nurture a Rising Star
Not since Thomas Beecham created his own international opera company in 1916, paid for with the proceeds from sales of Beecham’s Powders, has a new UK opera festival of such scale and ambition been born. It has quickly emerged phoenix-like to present world-class performance in the heart of Hampshire.
The telling of powerful stories, and not necessarily always tragic ones, lies at the heart of what a festival of opera is about. Add to that the setting, the sensuality of the whole experience, so that what we see, hear, taste, touch and even smell all play their part, and you have with your visit to The Grange as powerful a mix as it is possible to imagine. But I think there is more. The people: the temporary community of highly skilled performers, technicians, helpers, volunteers and festival staff who are all working towards the same end, and, I hope, equally determined to have a good time while doing it.
And then there is the visiting audience – old and new friends, locals, visitors, another temporary community who invest in their visits a lot of time, and money, and expectation. And add to them those who choose to be even more connected to this festival, by donating as members or funders. I fancifully imagine The Grange as a latter-day Delphi, the navel of country-house opera. You can choose which of the others is the heart, or the mind or the soul, but let us call The Grange our operatic navel, our Omphalos. Votive offerings are very gratefully received.
The need to separate from the past and start afresh has led to the new name: The Grange Festival.
The need to separate from the past and start afresh has led to the new name, The Grange Festival. This is designed both to celebrate the place and also promote a wider range of activities in the opera house. In our first season we presented two enticing evenings which were not staged opera. There has been expressed a strong and widespread desire for ballet in addition to the staple fare of opera. In 2018, we put on two evenings of world class ballet. We are already commissioning a new opera for inclusion in our festival programme a few years hence. We will be caretakers of its composition and nurture its development. Details of this venture will be revealed as soon as we feel we can.
The idea of an autumn season is not entirely new to The Grange, but one I am keen to explore. Our first season, 2017, happened to coincide with the Bi-Centennial of the death of a certain local author, but one who also happens to be one of the most widely read and admired in the world. In September 2017, we presented performances of ‘Mansfield Park’ the opera by Jonathan Dove after commissioning him to provide a new orchestral score from the original piano accompaniment. This will be the central event of a more substantial September season. And there is also an embryonic plan to introduce drama to the Grange theatre.